Heart Health Articles

Heart And Stroke Foundation Bestows First Ever Distinguished Clinician Scientist Award

October 31, 2017

Award-winning neurologist Dr. Shelagh Coutts is on the fast track of developing new brain scanning techniques for rapid and effective diagnosis of mini-strokes.

To support this leading and innovative research in Alberta, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has awarded Dr. Coutts, assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary, with the first Distinguished Clinician Scientist 2009 award in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health and AstraZeneca Canada Inc. The award was presented to Dr. Coutts at a reception held during the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Edmonton.

"We are so pleased to be presenting our very first Distinguished Clinician Scientist award to Dr. Shelagh Coutts. This is the highest ranking and one of the most prestigious awards offered to a researcher by the Foundation," says Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Because time is of the essence when dealing with a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), patients need to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. Almost half of recurrent strokes, large or small, occur within two days of the initial TIA.

"Patients who may be having a mini-stroke don't always have access to an MRI to see what's happening in the brain," explains Dr. Coutts. "In order to quickly visualize where there is a bleed or blockage in the brain, we are developing a combined approach using a CT scan together with an angiogram (CTA) [injecting a dye into the bloodstream to visualize the blood vessels]."

Dr. Coutts started this study entitled CATCH, one year ago with the support of an ongoing CIHR grant and Pfizer Cardiovascular Research Award. The study will test the new CTA technique on 400 patients having a TIA so as to map their stroke.

"Once we analyze the data, we'll be able to predict which patients are at a higher risk of having a second stroke," says Dr. Coutts. "With an accessible and non-invasive technology such as the CT/CTA, we're likely to have a significant impact on preventing major strokes in urban and rural Alberta."

"We are proud to support Canadian researchers, such as Dr. Coutts, who are combining their efforts to develop new scanning techniques to rapidly diagnose stroke in at-risk individuals," says Dr. Peter Liu, Scientific Director for the CIHR Institute of Circulatory and Respiratory Health. "Since 50,000 strokes occur in Canada each year, it's crucial to focus on better methods to prevent such a devastating health problem."

AstraZeneca has a long-standing tradition of supporting innovative research to create better treatments for an array of illnesses including cardiovascular disease. "We're excited to be part of this promising new diagnostic tool that has the potential to improve the outcome of patients affected by stroke," says Catriona McMahon, Vice President, Medical Affairs, AstraZeneca Canada. "Given that stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada, it's crucial that we support outstanding researchers such as Dr. Shelagh Coutts."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has funded researchers across Canada for over 50 years. Every year, the Foundation presents grants, awards and scholarships to leading stroke and heart disease researchers who are committed to reducing and eliminating the effects of stroke and heart disease.

"Stroke places a tremendous emotional and financial burden on affected families and a huge financial cost to our society; in fact, the cost of stroke on the Canadian economy is approximately 2.7 billion dollars each year," says Brown. "Most stroke patients are hospitalized for months and undergo a battery of tests and treatments - relearning how to walk, eat and speak. Canadians spend a total of 3 million days in hospital because of stroke."

Holly Roy
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada